AUDI SET FOR MORE SUCCESS WITH A5 COUPE
Audi is on the rampage at the moment, its sales charts defying gravity on their rapid ascent. Since 2000 it has doubled sales in the UK, from 43,000 to 86,000 last year and its target of 90,000 this year seems well within its grasp.
In recent years it has unleashed an avalanche of new models which has taken the marque into just about every market sector - supercars, saloons, SUVs, hatchbacks and with the exception of the complex, expensive and now discontinued A2, pretty much every one seems a winner
There is little reason to expect that its latest offering, the A5 and S5 coupes, will be any different, which is bad news for the BMW 3-Series coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLK that are its chief rivals.
The A5 is the 3.0 diesel version and the S5 has the 4.2 FSI petrol engine, both with the quattro four-wheel drive system for which Audi is famed. Over the next 12 months more - and cheaper - versions will be added to the family.
It is based on a new chassis in which the front axle has been moved forward by about six inches compared to the A4, partly for better weight distribution, but it also generates the biggest wheelbase yet seen in a mid-size Audi which is good news for those sitting inside who enjoy more leg room as a result.
It is an undeniably handsome car and a sophisticated shape too, much more complex than it seems at first glance. For those who are still not sold on the current generation BMW styling the A5/S5 might come as a welcome alternative. This is an important consideration in a market sector where style is such a crucial element in the buying process. There is a lot of strength in those lines and the addition of the LED driving lights at the front, similar to those on the R8, make the Audi coupes unmissable on the road.
The cabin quality is peerless, absolutely spot on. The seats are supportive but also comfortable and there is enough room in the rear for adults, let alone children. The sloping roofline of coupes often eats into head space which limits the rear accommodation but I tried it and found it fine.
On the styling and comfort fronts then the A5 and S5 tick all the boxes - but I was slightly nonplussed by them on the road.
I was a little underwhelmed by the first one I tried, the diesel A5, and I say that because it seemed to be taking a step back from the direction Audi has been going in for the past couple of years in terms of suspension and steering. We saw with the revised A6, again with the current A4 and most certainly with the new TT 2-litre version that Audi can deliver almost-BMW like levels of feedback and driver involvement.
That seems to have been dialled back a bit with the A5, perhaps on account of its four-wheel drive which can deaden steering feel. It rides well enough, firmish of course and there is endless traction from the quattro system, but little sense of engagement with the driver. The diesel also felt as if it needed a bit more poke, and that did come as a surprise because a modern 3-litre TDI should never feel under-powered. As you can see from the figures below, on paper it promises more than enough performance but I have to say that subjectively it felt as if it wasn't delivering.
The other offering in the range, the S5 with the 4.2 V8 seemed a bit more switched-on as a driver's car and comes with a great sound track from up front.
The engine encourages you to extend it and it has enough poke to justify its role as the sporting flagship, but you have to watch the fuel gauge because, inevitably it likes a drink.
But as I was driving them I kept coming back to the sense that something was a bit lacking. It wasn't as if I was driving as if the car was on fire and I certainly wasn't comparing it to the company's other coupes, the TT and R8, for those are much more performance-oriented.
I mentioned it to Audi personnel who made the entirely valid point that it is meant to be a GT car, to be rapid but also with more of a comfort factor than an out-and-out sports coupe. An Audi spokesman said the A5 might appeal to someone who has had a TT or something similar but whose children are now a little bigger and need more room and perhaps someone who no longer neither needs nor wants its more focused nature. Perhaps so, but from my point of view the A5 experience was, if not exactly disappointing then certainly not quite what I had expected.
The comment that put everything into perspective though was when he said that next year a four cylinder version will be added. Presumably this will be the slowest car but it is also destined to be the biggest seller, indicating that for customers, those actually writing the cheques, the style and comfort outweigh the driving experience. With those criteria, the A5 and S5 should be a resounding success.